by Edmondia Dantes
Disclaimer: They aren't mine.
AN: For the lovely starsplinter.
He's still not sure what's worse, listening to ghosts or ignoring them, and even though it's gotten better in the wake of battle, the weight of grief sloughed off like the geostigma, he still drifts off sometimes, caught in the memory of things he doesn't recall, and sinking into recollections that aren't his own. He just has to be careful not to fall too far in, not to get lost again, and it's easier now, to drag himself back to his own skin and his own life, and he'd never want to give it up because it's precious enough that he doesn't ever want to know how.
Zack bought Aerith her ribbon, the ribbon they all wear on their arms in her memory, the promise of forever and, now, a reminder of a love that's lasted through separation and torment and death itself, and he'd told Tifa the story the morning after he dreamed it, and her eyes had gone soft and gentle like a wine-dark sea, and he'd spared a wistful thought for all of Zack's charm that he couldn't borrow anymore, not without feeling like a fraud, and reached over and touched her hand, and that, maybe, was enough.
She'd held him tight when he'd finally told her about the day Zack died, tight enough that someone without the mako would have been half-suffocated, and maybe there'd been a hint of flowers in the air, maybe there'd been a distant ripple of laughter on the wind, maybe there'd been a hand in his hair and the impression of pride and affection and the softest kind of joy, and maybe grief isn't love despoiled, maybe it's love honored, maybe it's love cherished so long as it doesn't become a prison.
It's taken time to realize that what he carries in himself isn't a life stolen, isn't a promise twisted, that this is a gift, freely given, a hope and a dream and a wish, and if he's not quite worthy of it, that's all right, if it was a burden once it's not anymore, now that he can understand it.
There's nothing he doesn't cherish, because there's nothing Zack didn't cherish, and he can remember Sephiroth, quiet and just a little bit awkward and deeply loyal to the someones that he'd loved, and Zack, Zack had loved him straight through the betrayal, Zack had loved him enough to try and kill him for the sake of the memory of the man he once was, and that had been enough to make him lift his own blade, to open his own eyes and say yes, I will do this not only for revenge, not only because it was needed, but because it was right and good of him to do so.
It's an old and childish love, made of fragmented awe and terror, and he'd rocked back against the bar and stared at the fan revolving for hours and counted off moments, a heartbeat here and a hesitation there, that proved that it had been a betrayal, that it wasn't an inevitability, that something of his childhood hero actually had been heroic, that in some faraway once-upon-a-time a scientist had made a monster that turned out to be a man that only grew into a monster once he'd discovered what they'd done.
Man-made, mako-made, planet-made, and sometimes he thinks he bleeds lifestream instead of blood so tainted that he sometimes thinks he can feel materia crystallizing in his veins.
Precious things, he thinks, and smiles at the thought of Yuffie trying to puzzle out a way of stealing him without Tifa noticing.
Every once in a while, Zack's voice echoes laughter, makes him stand a little straighter and throw a little extra cockiness into his walk, and he's not a puppet, he's not trying to make up for all he's not, he's not a pity case or a last resort, he's not falling into a lie, he's just a living legacy, and he'll never be the man Zack was, he'll never spill out radiance and joy and laughter, not like he did, but he can breathe in and lift his face to the sky, and he can accept the trust that's made him, and always keep walking.